Commemorating CHM: White Supremacy Killed Lincoln


When you get a moment, check out PBS' superb film The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln. It is, without a doubt, the saddest documentary I've ever watched. It's streaming for free, so there's no excuse not to see it.

One thing that the piece subtly reinforces, for me, is how we disconnect the Lincoln's murder from the Civil War. I think out of politeness, we often neglect to note the obvious--that the Confederacy's war to preserve systemic white supremacy ended with the murder of one of the greatest presidents in this country's history. It's important to say this. It's important to not simply think of what the Civil War meant for black people, and what the following years cost black people, but to think about what it cost this country.

We talk about Booth as though he were just some crazed assassin, as opposed to talking about him as he was-- a white supremacist who killed Lincoln because he believed the president was a threat to "African slavery." We're uncomfortable saying the obvious--that Booth was animated by beliefs that were at the core of the CSA's very existence. This is not conjecture. These are the words of Booth himself:

I have ever held the South were right. The very nomination of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, four years ago, spoke plainly, war -- war upon Southern rights and institutions. His election proved it. "Await an overt act." Yes, till you are bound and plundered. What folly! The South was wise. Who thinks of argument or patience when the finger of his enemy presses on the trigger? In a foreign war I, too, could say, "country, right or wrong." But in a struggle such as ours, (where the brother tries to pierce the brother's heart,) for God's sake, choose the right. When a country like this spurns justice from her side she forfeits the allegiance of every honest freeman, and should leave him, untrameled by any fealty soever, to act as his conscience may approve.

People of the North, to hate tyranny, to love liberty and justice, to strike at wrong and oppression, was the teaching of our fathers. The study of our early history will not let me forget it, and may it never.

People of the North, to hate tyranny, to love liberty and justice, to strike at wrong and oppression, was the teaching of our fathers. The study of our early history will not let me forget it, and may it never.

This country was formed for the white, not for the black man. And looking upon African Slavery from the same stand-point held by the noble framers of our constitution. I for one, have ever considered if one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us,) that God has ever bestowed upon a favored nation. Witness heretofore our wealth and power; witness their elevation and enlightenment above their race elsewhere. I have lived among it most of my life, and have seen less harsh treatment from master to man than I have beheld in the North from father to son. Yet, Heaven knows, no one would be willing to do more for the negro race than I, could I but see a way to still better their condition.

But LINCOLN's policy is only preparing the way for their total annihilation. The South are not, nor have they been fighting for the continuance of slavery. The first battle of Bull Run did away with that idea. Their causes since for war have been as noble and greater far than those that urged our fathers on Even should we allow they were wrong at the beginning of this contest, cruelty and injustice have made the wrong become the right, and they stand now (before the wonder and admiration of the world) as a noble band of patriotic heroes. Hereafter, reading of their deeds, Thermopylae will be forgotten.

It needs to said, and it needs to be repeated--the first president to be murdered in this country's history was murdered by a white supremacist. We have to say this. It's not enough to think about what white racism costs black people, we have to think about what white racism costs white people. In this case, it costs them one of the wisest statesmen this country has ever produced, and led to the elevation of Andrew Johnson, a man routinely reviled as one of the worst presidents in history. 

The final irony of it all is tragic--Leaders of the self-styled Party Of Lincoln actually celebrating the battle-flag embraced by Lincoln's murderer.
Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

It's the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in National

From This Author

Just In